THE PROTESTANT AT THE MASS; Reformation 500 Blogs Part 4

Should I Attend or Not?

This is a question that arises from time to time. Someone we know through work, social connections or family links passes away, and that individual is a Roman Catholic. Should I attend the funeral mass? Would it seem rude if I didn’t attend? What would be the best approach out of respect for the family? The same question may also arise when invited to a Roman Catholic wedding. As Christians, we wish to show sympathy, but our Protestantism challenges our consciences. We must look for an approach that marries together Christian love with Biblical conviction.

Let us begin with a look at the life of Martin Luther at this time of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. As a young priest, he was required to celebrate Mass for the first time. As the cloister bells chimed, and as the choir chanted, “O sing unto the Lord a new song,” brother Martin took his place at the altar. As he came to recite the words, “We offer unto thee, the living, the true, the eternal God,” he was struck with such a sense of fear that he collapsed and had to be carried limp from the altar. Let us hear from Brother Martin, in his own words, the cause of his alarm at such a memorable time:

“At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, ‘With what tongue shall I address such Majesty, seeing that all men men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince? Who am I, that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround Him. At His nod, the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say, I want this, I ask for that? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal and the true God'”. (“Here I Stand” by Ronald Bainton, published by Hodder and Staughton, 1951, Page 41)

His spirit was invaded by such a deep sense of doubt, despair and depression that the only word that could possibly describe his malady was Anfectung. This is a German word that means a spiritual affliction caused either by God or Satan.

What was it about the Mass that sparked such despair in the sensitive soul of the already despondent Brother Martin? Was it the enormity of what he was about to do – transform the wafer into the body of Christ, the wine into His blood and offer Him upon the altar to make atonement for sin? When one analyses the claims Rome makes with regard to this doctrine of Transubstantiation, it causes one to question whether spiritually minded men can really and absolutely believe what they do is real. Surely, if every priest believed in the Mass, every celebrant would be plunged into the grief that plagued Martin Luther. About thirteen years ago when discussing this very doctrine with a Roman Catholic priest, I challenged him regarding the substance that the wafer and wine became, and he accepted that no scientist would ever discover one drop of blood in the consecrated wine. This revealed to me that Transubstantiation is too much even for the most devout follower of the Papacy. The idea that a man can sacrifice our Lord over and over is so awesome that, to really accept this, would be too much for a mortal to take on board.

The Lutheran movement, following on from its famous founder, while rejecting the notion of Transubstantiation, could not quite part with the high mysticism of the sacrament, opted for a version of the Lord’s Supper known as Consubstantiation. It was the Reformed Churches, which dominated Protestantism outside Germany that went further than Luther on this issue, perceiving the inherent error in claiming to transform the wafer and the wine into Christ’s substance and sacrificing Him on the altar. Had Christ not died once for sin, and was this one offering not sufficient? Therefore, the Mass came to be one of the defining points articulating the distinction between the Reformation Movement and the Papacy. This was especially so in England. Bishop J.C. Ryle, the great Evangelical Anglican of the 19th Century recorded in his paper “Why Were Our Reformers Burned?” that, between 1555 and 1559, 288 Protestants were burnt to death. Why? What was the reason for such barbarism in the name of religion?

“But all without exception were called to special account about the real presence, and in every case their refusal to admit the doctrine formed one principal cause in their condemnation.” (“Light from Old Times” by J.C. Ryle, published by Evangelical Press, 1980, page 41)

Bishop Ryle argues that the Reformers were quite right to stand firm in their refusal to accept that Christ physically was present in the Mass because it undermined the finished work on the cross, the Priestly Office of Christ, the doctrine of Christian Ministry and the truth regarding Christ’s Real Humanity. The Mass, therefore, overthrows the Gospel.

Where a Requiem Mass is concerned, the stakes in the battle for Gospel truth are even higher. The word requiem is derived from the Latin word meaning rest and is found in the opening line of a funeral mass:

“Grant them eternal rest, O Lord”

The Requiem Mass presupposes that the soul is languishing in Purgatory and that a sacrifice must be offered for the relief of the deceased. The Priest becomes a little Christ, a mediator, standing between the living and the dead interceding for the soul of the departed. There can be no greater assault on the Gospel. The Scriptures never refer to Purgatory, only Heaven and Hell. There is no man who can assist the soul beyond the grave. After death comes only one reality for the unrepentant sinner: JUDGEMENT. There is no more sacrifice for sin after death. Our eternal destiny is settled on earth. Heaven or Hell. Repent or Perish.

Can one therefore attend a Requiem Mass as a neutral observer? This is impossible. A Church is a place of worship. To be present is to be part of the worship, and, as at any Mass, the wafer is translated into Christ and this becomes the object of worship. Do we not owe it to Christ to be separate from such evils which grossly offend the Christ who offered himself for us? Indeed, I go further still – should we ever at any time place ourselves under the ministry of a Roman Priest who claims power over the souls of men, to forgive sin and to offer our Lord upon his altar? Does the Scripture not command us never to be entangled with the yoke of bondage and to declare those who peddle another Gospel as accursed?

In this pluralistic age, we are encouraged to be accommodating and to resist the tendency to adopt entrenched positions. Bishop Ryle, as an evangelical within a denomination which was moving rapidly in the direction of Anglo Catholicism, was aware that his views were unpopular in the fashionable circles of Victorian England:

“It is fashionable in some quarters to deny that there is any such thing as certainty about religious truth, or any opinions for which it is worth while to be burned…It is fashionable in other quarters to leave out all the unpleasant things in history… Last, but not least, it is thought very bad taste in many quarters to say anything which throws discredit on the Church of Rome…” (“Light from Old Times” by J.C. Ryle, published by Evangelical Press, 1980, pages 15-16)

We live in similar days. Many Protestants today, rather than sacrifice their reputation, willingly expose themselves to the blasphemy of the Mass. Where are the men and women who would rather burn than cause offence to Christ and deny the Gospel of Grace? In this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation let us rededicate ourselves to the old paths. Let us reaffirm our opposition to Rome. Let us object to all which brings shame on the Gospel. The Christian is a cross-bearer who walks with Christ through persecution and bears His reproach without the camp. Will you be counted among those who walk in the paths of our Reformers, who preferred death rather than compromise?

We need the spirit that was in John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, who was challenged to recant and embrace a life of usefulness, by Sir Anthony Kingston, with the words, “Consider that life is sweet and death is bitter. Life hereafter may be good.” Hooper’s reply is moving, memorable and inspiring:

“The life to come is more sweet, the death to come is more bitter”
(“Light from Old Times” by J.C. Ryle, published by Evangelical Press, 1980, pages 95-96)

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)

19 thoughts on “THE PROTESTANT AT THE MASS; Reformation 500 Blogs Part 4

  1. How exactly do you account for 2 Maccabees 12: 42-46?

    Denying purgation denies either God’s justice, or His mercy, or that we must become perfect in order to enter Heaven (see Revelation 21:27).

    For the Bible tells me so.

    It’s true that the full realization of the Real Presence would be enough to kill a person (which has happened, by the way, such as Bl. Imelda), but so too would the realization of redemption in general, or that God really became a man, or that He loves us, etc.


    1. Yes, we must be perfect to enter heaven, but those who embrace Christ by faith enjoy His righteousness. There is no need for purgation because our sins were punished upon Christ? Why would God require punishment again?


      1. Well we must be chastised in this life for our sins (Heb. 12, for ex.) to be made perfect, no? Why should we assume that this is always completed on Earth?

        If faith alone really made us perfect, then there would be no need for Christians of the 10 Commandments, or the New Commandment of Christ, or any rule of worship, or really any need to try to do good at all. It is difficult to imagine many positions more unscriptural than that. Do not the demons also believe and tremble? Are there not many who will say on that day “Lord, Lord,” and will enter into the fire? Are there not virgins faithfully awaiting the bridegroom without the necessary goods to welcome his arrival? Etc. Etc. Etc.


      2. You are confusing sanctification with justification. We cannot be justified by our works. No amount of punishment will erase our sin and make us acceptable because ultimately the fact of our sin makes us guilty. Only the merits of Christ, His life, His atonement, His resurrection can justify and this is a perfect work. But, to quote St Paul, Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? No – the justified man or woman has an innate desire to be morally pure. But to achieve this God does not punish, this work has been accomplished by Christ. He chastens as a Father does his children. But no amount of chastening can ever justify.


      3. Yes – we must not merely be justified, but also sanctified. The perfect in Heaven are sanctified totally, that is, perfectly ruled by charity. One who has not paid off a debt of punishment is not yet perfectly sanctified, nor is one who still has any inordinate attachment to creation perfectly sanctified. That punishment and detachment will occur either in this life or in the next. In this life it is called penance or mortification, in the next it is called purgation. The former can win merit, because charity increases or is exercised by it (due to God’s own action within the soul and our cooperation with it, which is also due to an even further operation of grace), while the latter cannot.

        Punishment for sin is a demand of justice, while sanctification is a work of mercy. In purgatory, they go together. This is not Pelagian.


      4. I would suggest you read my blogs on the Book of Romans beginning with the following links where the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is examined in more depth, but the blogs go onto show the importance of Justification and Sanctification and how they complement one another. Suffice to say this for now – Sanctification never merits us a place in heaven – this is the Righteousness of Christ Alone which He has provided by his life, death and resurrection. God will never exact the price of sin from us when Christ has already paid the price.


      5. I took a look… I don’t see a good solution there.

        Basically, what I am saying is this: if you have faith so as to move mountains, but have not charity, you are nothing. Protestants seem to say the opposite. I’ve done loads of study and debate on this topic and have never encountered a good reply (among other, deeper problems). And charity must be perfected according to the individual’s capacity, a process called purgation, which happens after death if necessary, and is also an act of justice. We get the punishment we deserve (sins are not all the same, you know, and fallen creatures don’t automatically earn Hell by any sin), and simultaneously we are regenerated and made perfect – an act of mercy (the removal of an affliction).

        I suggest Garrigou-Lagrange on these topics, if you are really interested in understanding the Catholic position on these topics. You might try here first:


      6. I will read your link with your interest. Thank you. Before I take time to formulate a fuller reply I will say this; St Paul was not speaking of the perfecting of charity in relation to our Justification. This is part of the sanctifying nature of the Holy Spirit’s work on earth, but is not a merit. Salvation is by grace and not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9, also St Paul, be careful to weigh up the Apostles words in totality). Evangelical Theology, which you probably call Protestant (I am not against the term but Luther’s theology predated the arrival of the Reformation if you read Huss, Wycliffe, Waldo, Augustine etc) teaches that the Christian Man has an interest in sanctification because he is born again. This is the infusion of spiritual life which accompanies faith. Therefore salvation involves principally Justification (making us righteous at God’s Bar), Regeneration (New Life), Adoption (being received into the family of God). Therefore as a consequence of regeneration there is the desire for sanctification but this work is not complete until the body is finally redeemed at the general resurrection. The souls of believers do immediately pass into glory at death, however. This was Paul’s faith – absent from the body and present with the Lord. This passing into glory is based on the merits of Christ. Again I repeat, we have no merits. As Augustus Toplady wrote:
        “Nothing in my hands I bring
        Simply to thy cross I cling”


      7. I’m pretty sure Paul means, if you don’t have charity, even though you have faith, you are not going to Heaven.

        But it’s nice to have a guide outside myself (and my own thought that the Holy Spirit is guiding me) to tell me what these things really mean. It would be strange if God orphaned us with nothing but a book in ancient languages to try to decode, even granting that book is infallible – WE are fallible. (This is the more basic stuff that is problematic. The justification stuff is not as big a deal, and sometimes is just a matter of language. See the Joint Declaration from Lutherans and Catholics on the point:

        The RGL link is pretty massive, it’s an entire book. But if you want to understand what you’re critiquing, then it’s important to read such things.



      8. Your response is typical Roman Catholic reasoning with regard to Scripture. When Scripture questions or condemns the standard position of the Papal Church, suddenly the Bible is relegated to a secondary place. All Scripture is either inspired, God Breathed, or it is not. And if it is infallible, the product of the divine mind, then we are obligated to follow it’s teachings regardless of the Church Fathers and their writings; regardless of tradition and their perceived antiquity. Yes we are fallible but at the same time can stand with certainty upon the clarity of Scripture. You said you are pretty sure Paul was saying if you do not have charity you are not going to heaven. Yes, I agree – Paul was stating this but this is quite different from claiming that charity merits us a place in heaven. Those who are justified are also regenerated. Those who are regenerated yield the fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, temperance…” Love stands first as the primary product of grace in our lives. The person who does not have love is not regenerated, nor is he justified. But this does not mean he will be in heaven because of his love – N0, NO, NO. Heaven is earned by Christ and His merits. As for the Lund Declaration. Not everyone sees this statement as you do. The following quote is from a website based in Rome which follows modern Papal Theology from an historic Protestant viewpoint. The link to the whole article accompanies the quote:

        “The 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), signed by Roman Catholics and Lutherans, comes close to what the Reformation stood for in recovering the good news of salvation as a Christ-given gift, but it tends to blur lines on significant points. As evangelical theologian Mike Reeves has shown, in JDDJ “the matter of the Reformation was not accurately addressed there, and still stands: are believers justified through faith in Christ alone, or is eternal life ‘at one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merits’?” ”


      9. Let’s just stick with the one point on interpreting Scripture. I will leave the grace/justification issue to the link I sent. It is just too much for a combox back and forth. I’ll be happy to answer questions on the text.

        Okay, so you admit that you are fallible, as I admit I am fallible… Do you also believe Peter when he says Paul is difficult to interpret, and that many misinterpret his writings (2 Peter 3:16)? Isn’t the fact that two (and many, many more) sane adults are in disagreement over the meaning of the same passages enough to warrant ridicule of the position that we can simply look at Scripture and get the right answer? Also, which books are Scripture, and which aren’t? How do we know? Do you or I decide? Does Luther? My Bible is bigger, after all… Does that mean I like Scripture more? And what about the fact that Scripture does not recommend reading Scripture alone as a means of learning the Christians faith (see 2 Thes. 2:15)? And how exactly did all the early Christians with no Bible live the Christian life except by listening to humans endowed with special authority by God through apostolic succession? Etc.


      10. Well, I have to say I am a bit underwhelmed at the explanations. For example, you say the 27 NT books were accepted, on account of their use by certain “church leaders,” all of whom would insist on the authority of “the Church” to judge what belongs to Scripture and what does not. Yes, it indicates even wider use, but the underlying assumption here is that confirmation of inspiration is democracy among believers, and this is just not so… There was not always such a majority (it developed through time), nor is it clear prima facie that majority or universality would absolutely guarantee inspiration. If this were so, the current majority of Christians believe in the Deuterocanon… So, is that therefore inspired? At what time does the majority “count” and why? And if organic democratic election is the case with Scriptural canon, why is it not the case with other things as well, like Christology? Arius gained a majority among Christians… Why does that not work? Etc. The phrase of Vincent of Lerins about “all places, all people, all time” is something that intuitively makes sense as a general guide for REJECTING texts… like the Gnostic Gospels. It is not a plan for figuring out the whole canon in an infallible way – or else, again, that canon would either change with popular opinion, or it would have to, somehow, only apply for a particular point in time. Neither is true. Instead, there is an external authority which confirms the deposit of faith as genuine – including what really is and what really is not Scripture.

        You also misdate the Council of Jamnia (which you don’t even mention – unless it is another council, in which case I’ve never even heard of it) – though why the judgment of the Jews (which is not as clear as you might think) would matter is, well, more than suspect. Why would the Jews, a collection of fallible human beings, get to decide what is truly “Scripture” and what is not? How exactly do they get that authority? Did Moses or some patriarch, on God’s authority, grant them the privilege of doing this? No. The Torah, prophets, history, and wisdom writings are certainly Scripture, but there is no clear authority structure for the Jews to say definitively what counts as inspired text and what does not – ESPECIALLY after the New Covenant, when Jamnia happened.

        You don’t even get into Luther’s take on the deuterocanon in your posts, so I won’t belabor the point, other than to say that he tried to throw out texts he had no authority to declare as uninspired, and he even petitioned to throw out parts of the NT (the antilegomena – including James, which he notoriously saw as irreconciliable with his own doctrine, and thus, out of convenience, tried to have removed).

        These are enormous problems for sola scriptura in history and practice. And we’ve only started on it… I did not see any good solution to the “tower of Babel” problem of interpreting complex passages… Say, John 6, for example.

        The Word became flesh, not more words. He gave men real authority to act on His behalf, and they understood that was to be perpetuated through certain offices, which is where we get these “church leaders” and things like “the Council of Carthage” which you cite in one post as evidence of your own position (which happens to be correct on that point).


        Liked by 1 person

      11. In general response:
        1: Our Lord certainly verified the Old Testament by his accepting the division that was in use among the Jews, which incorporated the books that we today recognise as the 39.
        2: When the Church formally recognised the 27 as being inspired where they actually formulating the 27 or where they playing catch up – recognising that which was already in place? If indeed, the 27 were written before in the 1st Century then the 27 were already out there and in use among the Christians.
        3: Christ himself, promised that He would send His Spirit to guide the Apostles into all truth and this surely involved preserving the texts for the edification of His Church.
        4: Yes, absolutely; Christ did give authority to His Church. But this authority must not step outside the bounds of Scripture. My greatest problem with the Roman Church is that the Papacy and Church Councils have formulated doctrine which is contrary to Scripture; Papal Infallibility, Immaculate Conception of Mary, Purgatory, Limbo, the five additional sacraments, praying to saints, the use of relics, indulgences,the elevation of tradition.
        4: Luther was a man with many flaws. As Protestants we do not canonise leaders. His views on the Jews are inexcusable but we all are children of our times. He was in error in relation to James. But he played an enormous role in bringing Scripture back to Christianity. That cannot be denied. Progressives within Catholicism recognise this and the role the Reformers played in challenging the corruptions of the Church.

        We are all on a spiritual journey. It has been good and a blessing to share this time.



      12. 1. I’ve not read anything in the NT that gives a full canon, like a list… There are quotations. Paul quotes several Greeks – are those canonical too? And what about the Septuagint?

        2. Confirming what is authentic would certainly mean playing catch up, yes. But why a group of men wearing funny hats get to say “this is authentic, and this other thing is not” is unaccounted for…

        3. Agreed – truths cannot contradict. But we return to the same problem of how we know Scripture has authority (because what counts and what doesn’t?) AND how to authoritatively interpret ambiguous but important passages that are controverted. I warmly recommend digging deeper on the items you mention. Here is one link to get you started, on one topic:

        4. I think Luther would disagree regarding James. So who is right? How is a believer to know? Did God really leave us orphans with a manual to try to decode on our own? Yes, more emphasis on Scripture with Luther, but there are myths out there about the attitude of the Catholic Church at the time toward this (like a universal ban on laity owning a copy of the Bible). I’ll leave it at that.



      13. I will certainly read the information you have suggested. Thank you.

        One point though. The myth that the Church discouraged the ordinary man from reading the Bible? Why was Tyndale burned? Why was he forced to publish His English translation in Europe?


      14. As the Italians say, “Traduttore, traditore.” Any translation is going to lose something of the original sense, especially in as complex a work as Scripture. Tyndale’s translation was especially bad, arbitrarily (and knowingly) choosing words that were particularly subversive of Catholic doctrine. This is why he was executed.

        Similar events happened prior to this in other parts of Europe, such as southern France. The Albigensians were sneaking in their own doctrines into copies of Bibles to convert people – so there was a local ban on owning a Bible, for the sake of preserving the Faith and the true Scriptures.


      15. Sadly, as our conversation has moved along it is apparent that you are wholly supportive of the persecution of Protestants during the Reformation Period. What you call Catholic Doctrine is of course nothing of the sort. Your Church only sees Catholicism in terms of Rome; The Catholic Church does not exist without the Roman Papal Centre, a relic from the Rome Empire. True Christianity does, revived at the Reformation, has Christ at it’s heart – this is what the Reformers contended for. To excuse the barbarism which was inflicted upon the Albigensians is nothing short of despicable. I finish with my link to my blog enititled “Was the Reformation Schism or Revival; Of God or the Devil”



      16. Well, I think that is a jump from simply explaining why what was done was done. Maybe you are saying that because you are running out of substantive arguments on the topic itself. I don’t necessarily disagree with executing heretics, but there were some immoderate uses of this throughout history. (The Albigensians killed their own, FYI… and the crusade was hijacked by angry mobs who perpetrated the more gruesome violence, much to the displeasure of the pope. Again – lots of myths out there.)

        I think you mentioned Clement in one of your articles… You should do some more digging on that. Yes, the Bishop of Rome slowly gained power of various kinds throughout the centuries, but the office has always been revered as the head of Christendom. It starts in Scripture… and is immediately confirmed in history. See, for example, Irenaeus, writing about what was already widely believed in the 2nd century:

        The more you read the early Fathers, the more you will see that there are serious problems with the foundations, teachings, and practices of Protestantism. Good luck!



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